Richard Saunders tests five top FAC-rated rifles
I’m willing to bet that just about every airgun shooter, certainly among those of us who hunt, has wondered what their legal-limit rifle would be like in FAC format. It’s only natural isn’t it? To want more. More feet per second and foot pounds. More range and more hitting power.
Trajectory, which is the word for the loopy path that pellets take when they leave the muzzle, is the airgunner’s number one enemy, making an understanding of holdover and holdunder at different distances vital.
The reality is that FAC rifles have a flatter trajectory thanks to the velocity provided by those extra foot pounds. A legal-limit .22 rifle will give you around 570 feet per second (fps) depending on the pellet, whereas a 30 ft-lb FAC rifle will deliver around 920 fps – enough to give a flatter trajectory between 20 and 40 metres.
The current trend is for increasingly powerful rifles and bigger calibres. However, when you start getting into the realms of 50 or 60 ft-lb, or sometimes even more, heavier pellets are needed to maintain stability and accuracy, which means that the trajectory once again becomes an issue.
So if you’re thinking of applying for your ticket and feel the extra power of an FAC air rifle is what you need, our group test is made just for you.
While .177 options are available, most of us take the view that more power is better suited to the bigger calibres, so we’ll be focusing on .22 and .25 options. On the bench are the Daystate Red Wolf Safari, the FX Impact MkII supplied by ASI Ltd, the Air Arms S510 XS Xtra, the BSA R-10 SE and the Brocock Concept Lite.
Only just available in the UK, the Brocock Concept Lite is well named as it tips the scales at less than three kilos – the lightest on test.
The AR-15-style pistol grip is paired with a sliding stock that is silky-smooth and locks into one of five different positions with absolutely no movement.
With FAC versions available in .177, .22 and .25, as well as legal-limit variants, the Concept Lite’s cylinder offers fewer shots than bottle guns. But the Huma-regulated action and new hammer system provide more than enough for a dedicated hunting gun – 45 in .22 and 25 in .25.
Brocock’s superb magazine gives 10 shots in all three calibres and cycles smoothly, helped by the large, perforated bolt handle. Consistent with its stablemates, the safety catch is located above the trigger and is positive, but silent to use.
The 46cm Lothar Walther barrel is shrouded, but hunters will want to attach a silencer via the ½ inch UNF thread.
The trigger is an excellent two-stage fully adjustable unit, and just above it on the right-hand side is the power-adjuster, which gives you options to dial in a maximum of 18, 30 and 40 ft-lb in .177, .22 and .25 respectively.
Attaching a scope to the 11.5mm rail does nothing to alter the Concept Lite’s neutral balance. There’s a Picatinny rail under the forend, and you can attach more rails if you feel the need to, which are supplied to cater for more accessories.
The test gun was a 40 ft-lb .25 calibre model. On the range it produced groups that fell easily within a 10p piece at 40 metres, and I’m sure it would be capable of similar performance at longer ranges.
Despite fitting a bipod to it, the Concept Lite was very easy to carry during a session that lasted several hours, though sadly resulted in only one rabbit being taken cleanly at 39 metres.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“The Concept Lite is an excellent hunting rifle, especially if you plan to spend extended periods in the field or have to walk long distances. The stock is rock solid and sets you up to make the most of the rifle’s admirable performance”
Introduced at the end of last year, the Air Arms Ultimate Sporter XS Xtra builds on the S510 Ultimate Sporter – already one of the finest PCPs and voted Airgun of the Year at the 2019 Great British Shooting Awards.
In its FAC format, the XS Xtra with Air Arms’ own design regulator is truly the ultimate Ultimate. There are three power levels, each of which can be adjusted via a dial, ranging from 20 to 44 ft-lb in .177, .22 and .25 calibres with corresponding shot counts of 60, 55 and 34 respectively.
Like the S510 Ultimate Sporter, the XS Xtra has an attractive laminate stock option as well as a durable black tactical handle that will appeal to hunters, plus a walnut version. Each has an adjustable cheekpiece and butt pad, and features stippling on the pistol grip and forend. Sling swivel studs and a built-in accessory rail are also standard.
At 110cm long and weighing 3.8kg unscoped (the black tactical version is slightly lighter at 3.7kg), the XS Xtra is a full-size rifle well-suited for the field, on the range and, though they’re not disciplines I’m familiar with, I’m sure HFT and FT as well in legal-limit format.
The buttery smooth sidelever effortlessly cycles the 10-shot magazine, two of which are supplied. An excellent two-stage trigger, which houses the safety catch, extends the pleasure of the shooting experience and makes the most of the fully shrouded 62cm Lothar Walther barrel to which a silencer can be fitted.
The extra-long cylinder is filled to 250 bar by inserting the supplied probe into an inlet accessed by twisting a collar at the end of the cylinder. On the range, tiny groups with the .25 calibre test rifle were easy to achieve at distances of 50 metres and beyond, filling me with confidence for the XS Xtra’s field test.
Although the rabbits weren’t in a very co-operative mood, I managed two kills from as many shots at a maximum range of 38 metres.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“The Ultimate Sporter XS Xtra more than lives up to the reputation its namesake has earned over many years. It is as smooth, refined and accurate as it is powerful. The larger cylinder provides more than enough shots in any calibre to satisfy even the most prolific hunter“
Despite being the cheapest rifle on test, the BSA R-10 SE offers plenty of options. For example, there are four stocks, three calibres and customisable shroud and silencer set-up.
All the stocks are ambidextrous, apart from the walnut version, although a left-handed option can be specified, and are fitted with sling swivels. The high comb is balanced by a scoop on the under-side of the butt, which features a multi-directional adjustable shoulder pad.
The pistol grip fits the hand superbly for thumb-up or thumb around shooting styles, and the adjustable two-stage post and blade-style match trigger is crisp and predictable. Meanwhile, your other hand gets to use the sculpted forend, which has a Schnabel-type roll to it before blending into the steel bottle.
Altogether, the R-10 SE measures 111cm, 38.5cm of which is the barrel, and tips the scales at just 3.2kg unscoped. The rifle’s Customer Configurable Shroud (CCS) means you can remove the shroud and attach the silencer to the barrel if you prefer.
As with all top-of-the-range rifles today, the BSA R-10 SE’s bolt-action is regulated and operates a 10-shot magazine (eight shots in .25). You get two magazines, and in my opinion, they are among the best in the business. In terms of shot count, you can expect 52 from the 21 ft-lb .177 version and 63 from the 30 ft-lb .22 and .25 models.
BSA loaned us a .22 calibre 30 ft-lb model. For its field test, I travelled to one of my woodland permissions where I have a hide set up 20 metres from a peanut feeder. It’s been in place for some time, and the squirrels have become wary. With my legal limit R-10 I have been frustrated by bushy-tails that simply won’t come in close enough for a shot.
That wasn’t a problem with the FAC R-10 SE, as I bagged half a dozen out to 40 metres with clean headshots.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“My legal limit R-10 is one of my favourite rifles, and in truth I was a little bit wary about testing the FAC version in case it was a bit of a let-down. I needn’t have worried though, as the extra power improves what is already a great rifle, especially when you consider the price”
Hit harder and go further
Regardless of where in the UK you are, it can take many months for your FAC application to be processed, and for some the effort just isn’t worth it. For others there are practical and safety considerations, such as the presence of small children at home and the need to install an approved gun safe.
Let’s assume you go ahead, and your application is successful. What do you get at the end of the day? Well, for sure, your FAC-rated rifle will throw a pellet out flatter, faster and further than your legal-limit gun.
But consider this. You’ll still need to understand trajectory and work out holdover and under, not to mention the effects of wind. And just because your gun has the capacity to shoot small groups at 50 metres, do you? Don’t forget that the killzone on a rabbit at 50 metres is the same as at 30, and don’t ever think extra power will compensate for a misplaced shot.
Bushcraft will always be the most important skill an airgun hunter can possess, and no amount of extra power will compensate for that. Assuming you meet all the legal criteria, you’ll have to decide whether the power of an FAC will add a new dimension to your sport, or simply allow you to do what you already do with a bit more bang.
Due largely to its success in the US, Daystate has been at the vanguard of FAC air rifle innovation and offers high-power versions of just about all its products.
One of the latest is the Red Wolf Safari, an evolution of the successful Red Wolf, which uses new generation electronics to generate extra high-power outputs.
Super-power rifles are nothing new to Daystate – remember the 100 ft-lb Wolverine .303? The Safari .303 model has 80 ft-lb and is claimed to deliver 30 shots from its 480cc carbon-fibre bottle. Also in the range is a 30 ft-lb .177 (70 shots), as well as 65 ft-lb .22 and .25 models that each give 30 shots.
The Safari shares the Red Wolf’s electronic trigger and digitally regulated sidelever action. What sets it apart is the ambidextrous stock, which, although retaining the stylish contours of its stable- mate, including an adjustable cheekpiece and butt pad, features a rough wood finish.
During development, Daystate found that while traditionally rifled barrels work fine for .177 and .22 Safaris, the same wasn’t true of the .25 and .303. As a result, its Accuracy Research Team (ART) developed a new 60cm barrel with polygon profile rifling to deliver high levels of accuracy, especially at range.
To test the claim, I requested a .25 rifle which I zeroed at 40 metres, and then set up targets at 50 and 65 metres. I put the first bullseye at 50 metres down to a fluke, but changed my mind when the next four shots followed it.
At 65 metres, the groups were a little bigger, but I have no doubt that was down to me and not the rifle.
I’ve always been an advocate of getting as close to your quarry as possible, regardless of the power of your equipment.
However, on my golf course permission, the rabbits are super-wary and close enough is often 50 metres or more.
After shooting the Safari on the range, I was confident the odds would be evened up a little. Sure enough, a late evening session saw me bag four rabbits with clean head shots at between 45 and 56 metres, shooting from sticks in still conditions.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“The Safari is much more than the standard rifle on steroids. The Red Wolf platform is already one of the best in the game, and the enhancements to jack up the power are made with equal attention to performance and accuracy”
If you’re one of those airgunners who love to fettle their rifle to eke out a bit more performance, the FX Impact MkII could be the gun for you.
The Swedish bullpup is a Swiss army knife amongst air rifles; having purchased the initial platform in the calibre of your choice, you can buy additional barrel kits and barrel liners for calibres up to .30.
While FX presets the rifles at the power levels it recommends – 18 ft-lb for .177, 30 ft-lb for .22, 45 ft-lb for .25 and 82 ft-lb for .30 – you can select your own power output using an external hammer spring tension adjuster. You can also adjust the valve, and the regulator plenum is 25% bigger than that of the original version.
Aside from all the adjustment options, this is a beautifully made and designed rifle weighing just 3.2kg. The ultra-minimalistic, futuristic design is very comfortable in the shoulder thanks to a height-adjustable butt pad and the AR-15-style pistol grip. The trigger is an excellent and fully adjustable match-style unit that does FX’s unique Smooth Twist X barrel design proud.
One of the key upgrades from the original Impact is the addition of a huge sideloader magazine giving between 38 and 23 shots in the four calibres. Unlike many other bullpups, but consistent with those in the FX range, the sidelever is positioned halfway down the gun – with no ear-poking gymnastics required to set up the next shot.
The test rifle was a 45 ft-lb .25 Sniper Edition which I used straight out of the box. After fitting a scope to the Picatinny rail and a lamp to one of the accessory rails, I took the Impact MkII out for some night-time rabbiting, having zeroed at 30 metres and worked out my aim points to 50 metres.
I only managed one opportunity on the night, but I was able to execute a perfectly placed headshot at 37m when using some shooting sticks.
The Airgun Shooter verdict:
“If you find all those adjustment options intimidating, simply leave the knobs alone and enjoy the Impact MkII straight out of the box. However, if you like to fiddle, you’ll love this rifle even more. Its looks will divide opinion, but there’s no denying the performance and peerless versatility of this impressive rifle“
For the best field sports news, reviews, industry and feature content, don’t forget to visit our sister publications Clay Shooting Magazine, Sporting Rifle, Bow International, and Gun Trade News. And our YouTube shows The Shooting Show and The Airgun Shooter. For subscriptions, please visit https://www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/